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A new, nuclear-powered rocket is being tested, with the first British astronaut aboard. The smallest error could turn it into a flying nuclear bomb spreading radioactive fallout over a wide area of Europe. And an error does occur.

Cape Kennedy: Anxious ground crew staff at Houston Mission Control watch as the countdown to launch reaches its last thirty seconds. This is being relayed on the television. It is a historic moment – the first nuclear powered rocket these with the first English astronaut on-board. The rocket takes off safely.


The inside of the command module, Sunfire 1 is being televised. One of those watching in America is Carol, the wife of the British astronaut, Dick Larch who is with Doctor Charles Goldsworthy, a Germanic-American psychologist - they are smoking heavily! As they are watching the three crew begin their final orbit, Dick makes a quip about the Boston Tea Party which amuses Goldsworthy but his wife said he had rehearsed it...

Dick is in charge of putting in co-ordinates. He listens to the Mission Control voice reading it out and punches in the numbers – and makes a mistake unnoticed by his colleagues Command Pilot Edwards and Max Friedman A second later, Mission Control tells them that they are moving off track. 'We have no on-board malfunctions, Houston,' reports the pilot.

The wife is concerned but Goldsworthy says it is just a routine check off.

Watching on a small black and white V set in the Doomwatch office is Toby Wren. The corrected co-ordinates are being relayed to the rocket. Wren tells Quist that 'they nearly cocked that up,' which alerts Quist, but it seems they've sorted out the problem. 'That's good isn't it,' he smiles and Toby follows him into his office.

Command Pilot Edwards asks Houston to confirm that they are in the safe corridor for re-entry following that acute course correction readout. This is confirmed but they may be 'for a hot ride down...' They're calling on the British Navy. 'One guy up there should be pleased.'

The TV commentator explains about the communications black out experienced by any capsule returning to Earth. There is also a statement about the modified angle of re-entry. They don't know where the new splash down zone will be. As Carol Larch watches on anxiously, Goldsworthy is on the phone, getting results of the readings from the crew members such as heart rate. He is alarmed by 'lengthened LCT...' He doesn't explain the jargon to Carol. He thinks her husband might make it back to England before she does!

The whole of the Doomwatch team are watching the BBC's coverage of events, and this latest change of plan. James Burke is hosting in London with Michael Aspel reporting from America.

They are discussing the recovery network used for any return of a capsule. The word 'emergency' concerns Quist. Aspel reads out a new statement from NASA: 'Sunfire 1 module should now be splashing down in the Eastern Atlantic.' It could be anywhere from Brittany and the Irish coast. Quist isn't impressed: there's enough radioactive fuel on-board that module to kill us all... James Burke addresses this point to reassure anxious viewers: there is no danger of radioactive fall out. Aspel is happy to confirm this. They have evidence that the capsule entered the corridor and did not disintegrate. The worry is now for the safety of the Astronauts inside because of the heat generated by the angle of re-entry might have done some damage to the communications equipment.

Whilst the Royal Navy is looking for the capsule, Quist tells Pat to get the Minister. He returns to his office. The capsule is discovered and Ridge goes to tell Quist, who seems preoccupied with his forthcoming visit to Beeston. Quist doesn't even seem interested, not even since Dick Larch was a student of his ('Was? He's not dead, is he?') and he provided a professional reference. Ridge doesn't understand Quist. 'There are times when I don't see you at all.' 'Better than never seeing me again.' 'Promises, promises.' Quist explains that if that craft had burned up there would have been one hell of a contaminated area, let's say from London to Carlisle... Ridge is shaken. Quist had tried to get through to the Minister but he was unavailable, and this is the first of a series of rockets taking the same flightpath. Ridge doesn't think the Americans would let the modified flightpath happen again. Quist is annoyed at being thought of as naïve... He settles the issue. 'I'm the head of a team checking environmental dangers, right? Obviously I realise they won't let it happen again. But I'd be failing in my duty if I didn't kick up one hell of a stink.' Calming down a little, Quist is all for space research but is also for letting the Minister have the facts. But, trying not to be awkward, Ridge asks, wouldn't NASA do that?

Meanwhile, a representative from NASA, Gus Clarke is thanking officials from the Royal Navy for their help in recovering the capsule. They have to examine the capsule and debrief the crew, so he begs their indulgence a little longer.

A few days later, Bill Edwards and Max Friedman leave Dick Larch alone in a room as his wife has returned to England to see him. She didn't want to wait until after the debriefing. She is pleased to see him, but Dick seems distant, troubled, serious and quick to temper. Carol is a light, frivolous, joyful woman, who finds the word de-briefed very funny. She asks him if they had found out what caused the problem, He is more concerned about what she was doing in that week in Houston and displays signs of jealousy that Carol went to the restaurant with Charlie Goldsworthy. He wants to know what they spoke about, flustering his wife. He explains what he thought his wife could have got up to whilst he was in space. A perfect opportunity. He becomes angry - angry at her new coat, angry at being treated as if he is as stupid as she is. She has seen this side of him before but fails to placate him. He tells her to go.

Edwards is being debriefed by Kramer, an avuncular NASA man. Allowing the command pilot to take a break, Kramer talks to the his NASA officials including Goldsworthy about what they know of the situation. They have run and re-run the film. If there was a malfunction light they did not see it. Dick Larch backs this up. Ground control has checked out, so what have they got? Human error – he looks at Goldsworthy - or a malfunction light on the blink? They'll have to change the camera position for the next flight, and shudders at the potential cost...

Goldsworthy talks to Larch, telling him that he was with his wife throughout the flight... 'You had the hotter seat than mine, Charlie...' Goldsworthy asks Larch what happened... Larch pretends he doesn't know what went wrong. Goldsworthy says he is not debriefing him, just playing about semantically. Larch suspects human error will be the explanation for the business. He asks about Carol's reaction to the course correction and is surprised that his pulse rate was measured at 165.

Charlie tries to probe a little deeper into a possible mistake but Larch adamantly refuses to acknowledge he had missed out anything from his report. Charlie explains that his questioning is more an egotistical thing... he, after all, invited Larch over from the UK to NASA for training. 'I can't see any of us contributing to a maximum life critical, can you?' 'Human error does not automatically mean human intent.' Larch agrees, but he talks about the nuclear fuel on-board Goldsworthy talks about a disaster in terms of cost. He jokes that the crew, as humans are worth nothing, as functional pieces of machinery, about ten thousand a year!

Pat is reflecting on the cost of the space programme. The average pay packet in Britain is £23. Wren and Bradley don't take her concern over starving children very seriously, which disappoints her. 'Of course you don't, Colin, because there are no starving children in Yorkshire.' 'It's all right Colin,' says Wren, 'I think she's gone all self-righteous over us.' Bradley tells Quist that there was a call for him earlier from a man called Charles Goldsworthy...

Colonel Kramer continues the debriefing session with all three astronauts. He is clearly amused, but troubled with the answers. They are getting nowhere. Larch continues to deny knowledge of the problem.

Dr Goldsworthy meets Quist at his office. Quist knows that the meeting is about Larch – what else could it be for? He had given his reference over two years ago and Goldsworthy selected him. Quist Feels that NASA are looking for a scapegoat, but Goldsworthy denies this. 'I'm in an awkward position because I'm not the man at the top, I have no evidence... We've done the technical check up over here which is nearly 100%. We've been over every circuit, every nut, screw, on ground and on board.' There's a possibility of a failure of an on board failure light for EI attitudes – re-entry. Otherwise, it's human error – a failure to register the warning light. And the problem occurred when Dick Larch had control. It was a routine check up before Edwards took over. Quist suspects that Goldsworthy doesn't believe Larch. 'But without justification, I can hardly pass him up the line.' Quist approves. 'You're getting as bad as me. You'll be wanting rigorous proof next.' Then there's the political thing... 'Scapegoat without reason, draped in the Union Jack,' interprets Quist. He also guesses that any questions asked would look better coming from England... Goldsworthy wants nothing official, just a word back to him but Quist says anything goes back, official. 'All desperately covering ourselves,' says Goldsworthy. 'Too true in this case!' Goldsworthy doesn't want a fuss, if nothing then say nothing. He suggests Larch should visit the lab as a guest of honour... 'I've been given some dirty jobs,' reflects Quist. Goldsworthy smiles and thanks him.

Ridge wastes no time in talking to Carol Larch on the evening visit of their visit to the Doomwatch offices. 'You realise that is an astronaut's wife you've got there, don't you,' says Wren filling his glass. Quist is showing Dick Larch around the place. Bradley, looking dour, has to finish the analogue board in the computer lab and Pat offers him a hand. Pat wonders whether Dick Larch's visit here is reflected glory for Quist... 'No one is invited here just for a chat.' 'Sour puss,' remarks Bradley. Back in his office, Quist pours Larch another drink but he notices that his former student is more concerned about his wife talking to Ridge and Wren. Larch manages a few words of reproach to Carol. He thinks its time they went. He feels tired and she is drinking too much. Quist gets Toby to show her round the room, but when Dick is worried his wife might find it uninteresting, Quist suggests John accompanies them too. Alone, Larch tells Quist that that was rather obvious and wants to know why he is here. Quist, acting puzzled, just wants him to cooperate in some research. Larch isn't convinced – he knows this is about being on the computer at the time of re-entry. They are looking for a scapegoat. They discuss the matter, but Quist seems to know far more than he should, he naturally spoke to Goldsworthy about it. Larch is finally persuaded.

Goldsworthy tells Colonel Kramer about Larch and Doomwatch. He hasn't told the Chief. Kramer is bothered that it is more than just renewing old acquaintances.... 'We don't play hunches, Charlie, in this game.' Kramer wonders if the English are trying to white-wash their man. 'We're in politics now, Charlie. I suggest we do nothing until we have evidence.' Larch isn't due to fly for another two missions. They have time. Goldsworthy isn't happy.

Bradley is grumpy in the morning feeling he is behind schedule because of last night's party. Wren joins them, Quist seems a bit short today. Wren said that he thought Dick Larch looked a bit fed up last night. Quist asks John how do you when you're asked to interrogate a man who doesn't know he's interrogated? They discuss the theory. 'A vacuum – that's like being weightless.'

Larch is in Quist's office, rigged up to a machine taking readings from his body. Quists asks him about his fellow astronauts, what they are like. The conversation goes back to the flight, and again Larch is suspicious he is here for more than just a medical. Quist just explains he is just being nosey. He talks about the Americans, they like it straight.

Giving Bradley some more figures to check, Quist once again talks to Ridge. Larch knows. He's on the defensive. He feels persecuted. Ridge doesn't understand – Larch was given every conceivable test, but as Quist points out, in simulation. 'When Armstrong first landed on the Moon, he had to be reminded three times to collect his contingency sample. Three times. How many times did he get it right first time in simulation?' Ridge suggests if anyone is feeling persecuted, it's Quist. At least Larch isn't on the next flights. 'Your peace of mind,' says Ridge gently. Quist decides he has made an error and proposes to tell Larch the truth. 'It's their bloody pigeon.'

Gus Clarke reads out to the assembled NASA dignitaries the press statement on the Sunfire 1 mission: a malfunction on the on-board control panel of the capsule. Kramer and Goldsworthy talk to him. They don't really know if its technical error or complex human error. Try framing that.

A few months later, Mrs Larch visits the Doomwatch offices. She just popped in to say thank you.

Quist is surprised to learn that he and his fellow crew members are to pilot Sunfire 2. She thinks this is down to Quist and is pleased. 'They were very influenced by what you said.' The launch is soon. Quist is troubled.

Having a tea break, Wren wants to know what Mrs Larch wants. Pat thinks Ridge is jealous just like Mr Larch. 'You show me a jealous husband and I'll show you an unsatisfied wife...'

This time Goldsworthy is watching the launch on television on his own.

Wren discusses her husbands feelings with Mrs Larch. Wren feels that if he was the first English pilot he would feel the strain enormously. Carol agrees, perhaps that's what made Dick so edgy. Wren seizes on this. Wren questions her more. Apparently he blamed everybody else – even her for the fault. He feels that everybody has got it in for him.

The launch begins.

Wren bursts into Quist's office and repeats what Carol Larch has told him, much to her distress. Quist tries to placate her but Wren butts in; 'If Mrs Larch's husband is paranoiac...' Quist stops him.

He then asks Carol about her husband, about his attitude and behaviour. Did he blame Edwards and Friedman? Dick Larch told her that he was late in collecting the re-entry thing... 'Anybody could make a mistake...' He didn't say that to NASA. He would soon get into trouble if he did. She also remembers that he didn't like being weightless... he became more aware of his mind. As if he knew what people were saying about him, down on the ground.

Quist discusses the new information with Ridge and Owen. Paranoia can get worse in a weightless condition. Is he likely to make another mistake, says Ridge. That's not the point, replies Wren. Edwards and Friedman are now the objects of his paranoia. And if he suspects them of anything trivial, anything at all... Quist gets anxious. They have to do something - inform the command pilot, perhaps from a ground tracking station. Ridge makes a diagnosis on first hand evidence – Larch knows how to cover up his behaviour and behave how they want him to behave.

It's five o'clock GMT. GDS UK is a ground tracking station monitoring the orbit of the Sunfire capsule. Johnson and Brown are in contact with Houston. They know that some ministry bods are coming down, to monitor the flying H Bomb.

Sunfire 2 is now in it's final orbit. Edwards is in control of the equipment putting in the course codes. Larch watches calmly. But he reacts when Friedman hopes that the United States recovery craft are down in their splashdown area.

Quist, Ridge and Mrs Larch arrive at the Tracking Station. They are seeing a private communication relay of the interior of the orbiting capsule. Edwards is asking for the re-entry data to be confirmed. Larch had questioned it by passing over a note. Quist wants to talk to Houston. 'We have evidence that Larch is a schizophrenic paranoiac, and could endanger the mission. Over.' Houston asks for confirmation of their verbal signal. Quist repeats the message. There is break up on the frequency. Quist is impatient; there is enough radioactive fuel on-board to blanket half of Europe. Re-rooting them onto another channel, the 17:35 message is repeated – and disastrously, this message is heard on-board Sunfire... The stunned crew sit in silence at what they just heard as new vectors are read out. Suddenly, Larch gets out of his seat to input the final read out attitude check. Friedman and Larch struggle, Edwards misses the information. They are out of the corridor. Mission Control orders them to abort. They cannot splash-down without burning up. 'OK,' says Edwards as calmly as he can. Watching the actual capsule on the monitor, rockets fire briefly as the capsule goes back up.

Carol asks if they are all right but Quist cannot answer. 'You've killed him,' she whispers, starting to break down.

Command Pilot Bill Edwards contacts Houston. All three pilots are sitting down. 'We have missed the corridor due to my error and my error alone. ... What you may have seen just now on your screen... Dick Larch is a friend of mine. We are not judged by how we die, by how we have lived...' The screen is swamped with static.

Carol Larch breaks down, begging them to stop it. Quist asks for the screen to be cut.
Synopsis by Michael Seely

Pedler and Davis are postulating nuclear powered rockets – or rather the capsules and the frightening consequences of a disaster. The Apollo capsule was powered by hydrogen based fuel cells, which produced water as a waste product which the crew drank! It is safe to assume that the two Sunfire capsules were launched using conventional chemical fuel rockets. The nuclear fuel was on-board the capsule. It was an experiment, the first step to manned flight through the solar system. Chemical rockets get you off the planet, but with nuclear powered flight in space there are many advantages.

Here's a brief guide to current thinking on nuclear powered rockets available here.

According to a recent BBC4 documentary, there were plans to launch massive rockets into space using controlled nuclear explosions as thrust. This was called Project Orion. They came to nothing due to the level of fall out they may produce, amongst other reasons. These were abandoned in the early 1960s.

Quist is concerned by the fallout from any capsule burning up in re-entry, polluting Europe if the current flight corridor is used. In the episode, he sees formulating such disaster scenarios as part of his job to warn against. What he doesn't realise until it was nearly too late, was that one of the crew is unstable... And he's British.

The episode is more psychological. Human error rears its ugly head – and the efforts Dick Larch uses to cover it up. No one he worked with picked up on his condition – because no one spoke to his wife where he lets his guard down. Goldsworthy has suspicions but realises without proof, the impact it could have on Larch's career. The political situation is tricky again, an American agency blaming its only foreigner – the British one.

Quist, in being persuaded to analyse and secretly question Larch is doing a job he doesn't really no how to handle. It is a job he loathes and he has to lie. He does it very badly and not with much subtlety! In the end his conscience gets the better of him and passes the buck back to those with true responsibility. In the end his caution is justified. He accidentally uncovers what they needed to know months ago, and a technical error instigates the tragedy they wanted to avoid – but thankfully without the radioactive result.

Most of the regulars take a back seat on this one although each has something interesting to contribute. Ridge seems to be Quist's confessor for the middle of the episode, having antagonised him in the first, and then acts as a diagnostician in the last. Wren clumsily alerts Quist to Mrs Larch's anecdotes. Pat is allowed briefly to mention the cost of the Space Programme with a very clumsily inserted line about where the money could be spent. Bradley is suddenly a sour northerner who doesn't like frivolity!

It is quite a different sort of story from the previous five episodes. For one thing, and this is quite unusual in a Doomwatch episode, a great deal of time has elapsed between the two launches seen in the episode. Who knows what happened in between – The Devil's Sweets, perhaps? Or just the usual routine fodder that occupies the Doomwatch team.

The pace of the episode is quite gentle and low key. Plenty of stock film of rocket launches, splash downs, boats and helicopters. There is no special film effort for this episode.

We are not sure what happened to the capsule at the end. It obviously didn't burn up in re-entry as it went back out into space. Did it just head off into the void waiting to run out of oxygen? They lose communication – out of range or did they indeed burn up?

One can only imagine there must have been one hell of a political row after the events. The cross communication was not Quist's fault. But Mrs Larch seems to think that Quist was the one who gave Larch a clean bill of health which influenced the Americans. So did Kramer and Goldsworthy get fired or demoted? They both suspected the truth but did nothing without evidence – hardly surprising. Was the Sunfire project curtailed or cancelled?

This business is never referred to again, unlike The Plastic Eaters (referenced in The Red Sky – so that's authors referencing themselves) or Survival code – which haunts two episodes in the second season.

Perhaps Quist's last words in this episode should have been: 'Oops.'

Pedler and Davis would later base their third Doomwatch inspired novel The Dynostar Menace on an attempt to more away from nuclear fission, and the titular space station was designed to utilise nuclear fusion – the power of the sun. Unfortunately, it appears that should the Dynostar be activated, it will disrupt the Earth's ozone layer and create more havoc and devastation. What doesn't help is that there is a murderer and a saboteur on-board. We can its origins here in 1970.

Re-Entry Forbidden was recorded in Wednesday 1st February 1970, two days before the first episode of Doctor' Who's The Ambassadors of Death using the same set, slightly modified and with an airlock not seen previously. The two production teams had agreed to share the cost of the set and was overseen by the two designers Ian Watson and David Myerscough-Jones respectively. Doomwatch would transmit first.

NASA Technician inside capsule – Doomwatch

The input panel – Doomwatch

Recovery 7's input panel modified

Van Lutyens in the cabin

Deserted Recovery 7

Reviewed by Michael Seely (screenshots with thanks)

Even before I got to see an episode of Doomwatch, I had heard about Re-Entry Forbidden due to the fact that the space capsule seen here was also used for the Doctor Who serial The Ambassadors of Death.
Unlike the Doctor Who serial, Re-Entry Forbidden does not feature any aliens but does not feature any aliens but what it does have in common is exploring the immediate aftermath of the astronauts coming back to Earth.
Instead of aliens seen in the aforementioned Doctor Who serial, the threat to the mission in Re-Entry Forbidden is that of an ailment of the human condition from one of the astronauts that ultimately leads to the tragedy at the end.
Special mention has to go to Joseph Furst in his sincere performance as the military psychiatrist. Re-Entry Forbidden was criticised for implying that a feeling of weightlessness was a symptom of paranoia - and at the same time questioning the feasibility of the Variant 14 in the first episode. The episode concerns the pressure on the first British astronaut who seems to be the scapegoat for anything that goes wrong on the US' first orbiting nuclear rocket. As it turns out, the sensation of being in space tips the astronaut over the brink of paranoia and he makes mistakes which end up being fatal for the whole crew. The faces of James Burke and Michael Aspel added extra authenticity to this instalment.

Reviewed by Mathew See


The DOOMWATCH team on BBC 1 tonight get plunged into another frighteningly topical adventure.
A new nuclear powered rocket is being tested with Britain's first astronaut aboard. An error turns the rocket into a flying nuclear bomb.
To add a touch of realism, James Burke and Michael Aspel make guest appearances – as the BBC man in London and Houston respectively.

Original Newspaper article by Shaun Usher bills Re-entry Forbidden. With thanks to Michael Seely and Andrew Wilson


Project Number: 02249/4087




Costume Supervisor

Make-up Supervisor



Sound Supervisor

Grams Operator

Vision Mixers

Floor Assistant



Tuesday 10th February 1970 (with overtime) T.C.1
14.00 - 18.30 Camera Rehearsal (with TK-34 from 17.30)
18.30 - 19.30 DINNER
19.30 - 22.00 Camera Rehearsal (with TK-34)

Wednesday 11th February 1970
10.30 - 13.00 Camera Rehearsal (with TK-34 from 11.00)
13.00 - 14.00 LUNCH
14.00 - 18.00 Camera Rehearsal (with TK-34)
18.00 - 19.00 DINNER
19.00 - 19.30 Sound & Vision Line-up
19.30 - 22.30 TELERECORD: VTC/6HT/57207/ED
NB: ADD 5 mins. Control Track after recording (to cover poss. slow motion)
The episode over-ran in the studio.


Dr. Spencer Quist

Dr. John Ridge

Tobias Wren

Pat Hunnisett (Incorrectly spelt with one "t" on the episode titles!)

Colin Bradley

Dr. Charles Goldsworthy

Dick Larch

Carol Larch

Colonel Kramer

Gus Clarke

Bill Edwards

Max Friedman



BBC Man London

BBC Man Houston

T.V. Commentator

U.S. Airforce




U.S. Navy



U.S. Police Constable

NASA Technician

British Airforce




Security Men

Men at Tracking Station


Series devised by

Music composed by

Film Editor

Studio Lighting

Studio Sound

Script Editor


Assistant to Producer


Directed by

16th March 1970
9.20pm - 10.10pm

With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.

1 comment:

  1. like The Ambassadors of Death quite Quatermassy, the idea of a man having a breakdown after he returns from a space mission would later be used by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts in their short lived Sci-Fi serial Moonbase 3